From reading American history Mr. John Brown appears to have been the only white person who thought that the fight to free the Black man from the tyranny of white institutional oppression and from legally sanctioned abuse and murder was worth risking his life, that of his family and of his possessions. His raid on Harpers Ferry was an effort, from October 16 to 18, 1859, to initiate a slave revolt in Southern states by taking over the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. It has been called the dress rehearsal for, or the tragic prelude to the Civil War. Strategically the attack failed. Ten of Brown’s men were killed, including two of his sons. A wounded Brown, an old white man, was tried by the state of Virginia for treason and for murder, was found guilty on November 2, 1859 and executed on the gallows at the age of fifty nine years on December 2nd of that same year. And yet no Confederate traitors of note were ever tried and executed for the bold grandiosity of their invidious and bloody treachery.
Not less than three monuments were built and dedicated to Mr. John Brown, one of which was desecrated with Nazi and racist graffiti in 2018. But none of them compares to the one constructed and consecrated to the memory of President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C. in grandeur, nor to the over two hundred others erected across the nation in number. Granted, Lincoln was a president, one who was assassinated while still in office, and Brown was a mere private citizen whose life was fraught with controversy. But what of the motives of both men? The latter was met, largely, with approbation and the former less so, but with more opprobrium. What was the truth of the matter? What of the purity of the intentions of these historic figures?
Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War helped to free the slaves in the southern slaveholding states – not the slaveholding ones which remained in The Union. He only did so because it was politically expedient for him in order to achieve his primary objective which was to preserve The Union. Though Lincoln did what he did, despite the fact that slavery was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in as much as it was in its competing version drafted and ratified in the Confederacy, Mr. John Brown’s animus, to the contrary, was inspired because of it. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And so, who was a greater friend to “the Negro” at that time, Mr. John Brown or President Abraham Lincoln? Though Brown failed his desire for the liberation of Black people in this country did not.
When the late civil rights activist and Black Nationalist, Malcolm X, encouraged African Americans to arm and defend themselves against the atrocities heaped upon them by white racists this was met with disapprobation. This came not only from white liberals who supported the movement, but from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his acolytes as well. The Christian virtue of “turning the other cheek” in response to hatred and violence was not only trumpeted by those with the purest of intentions, but even by those who had grown accustomed to the age old practice of oppressing and killing Afro-Americans, unchallenged, and with reckless impunity. Violence, they intoned, could never solve the plight of the Black man, but, conversely, it was their prescription for the maintenance of “law and order” for the status quo of whites.
The late Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, never seemed concerned about white citizens owning guns to protect their lives and properties, but when the Black Panthers sought to do the same for their people and their neighborhoods he was deeply disturbed. He was as concerned about “law and order” then as is the case with many white governors and their legislatures today who have enacted various versions of the “stand your ground” law. Whites who feel threatened are free to use deadly force, no doubt with Black “perpetrators” in mind. But, unarmed Blacks have no right to resist or to flee being killed, or to have their honor defended in court. Only one white insurrectionist was killed on January 6, 2021. This has led some to marvel at the restraint demonstrated by law enforcement against so violent and so consequential an attack on our form of government. How so, for an insurrection?
Americans shout louder over their Second Amendment rights than they do over the bloody carnage of their children within the safe precincts of schools. They are appalled at any legal threats to the National Rifle Association (NRA), and to the vilification of apprehended armed militia members who sought to kidnap and lynch state governors or a sitting vice president of the United States more than any external threats posed by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Federal legislators defy Capitol building security policies and procedures by attempting to carry guns unto the floor of Congress, and pose proudly on their websites with high powered automatic weapons. One lawmaker was seen in a photo posing proudly with her young children all brandishing assault weapons which they had received as Christmas presents. And yet, John Brown was seen as crazy? Yes, and only because he employed violence in an attempt to deliver the Black man. U.S. Troops fired on him and his supporters, but the guns were, mostly, silent in D.C.
Though the shedding of one’s own blood is a symbol of unswerving devotion and of supreme sacrifice it is not, by any means, the only measure of the same. Those whites, for example, who left the comforts of their homes up north during the period of Reconstruction in order to teach and to empower former slaves just released from their long midnight of oppression are cases in point. Against the fear bred by propaganda that Black men would return such altruism of white women by raping them, and despite the rabid hostility of their racist southern brethren they made their trek, born of a sense of humanity and conscience, in large numbers, to begin to dismantle the walls of enforced ignorance and to build bridges of hope and of opportunity. In 21st century America – where is this love that Jesus talked about when it comes on to passing laws against lynching, against police brutality, against political disenfranchisement, and against social, cultural, and economic inequities?
Though this writer appreciates the difficult and the confusing maze of politics in this country, and though he comprehends the vast, intransigent, and intractable forces arrayed against efforts to secure the American dream for all people, especially for people of color and those forced to the peripheries of society, he has lost confidence in and patience with liberal white politicians who claim to be friends of the Black man. Their, seeming, lack of willingness or intelligence to deal with the threadbare propaganda of their opponents, which have been used consistently and with great effect, and their ostensible ineptitude against boldface, tried and true political maneuverings have earned his exasperation and his ire. People of colour routinely take to the streets in protest in an attempt to fill the aching void left by them.
Such “friends” of the Afro-American community might be quick to excuse their bad report cards as due to not having the requisite majorities to get much needed legislation through. But such excuses hold no water when juxtaposed against all those times when they actually enjoyed such majorities within Congress and when they had someone in the Oval Office who was willing and ready to sign their bills into law. If people of colour keep protesting in the streets over the same old issues, then what does that imply about congressional efforts to address those issues? Again, they could not get a voting rights bill passed for years? Was it that they could not, did not know how to, or, just did not want to? The large volume of water under the bridge of political time and opportunities has now raised the tides of suspicion as to their motives and as to their culpability in the continued oppression of people of colour and of other minorities. Their opponents can pass unjust laws with lightening speed as they look on. How so? People can debate John Brown’s methods, but never his heart.
What white political liberals are yet to realize is that that which once divided the nation yesterday, the denigration of the Black man, is that which still threatens to tear it asunder today. That is, by no means, a new notion but a recurring one. The plight of the Black man is the peril of the country. Therefore the level of the liberals’ investment will determine the degree of and the timeliness on their returns. Are they prepared to resist the evils of racism, social inequality and injustice with the last full measure of their devotion, or will they continue to use it for political self aggrandizement or self preservation? Their hypocrisy or indolence might be the corrosive blade which will cause the slashing of their own throats. Their dubious delays and obstructionist behaviour could see the sinking of their ideals and of all their accomplishments. And so, in these dark hours, they should never ask for whom the bell tolls – for it tolls for them.